Will Apple bite on Motorola's PowerPC chip?

Motorola is producing samples of a 1.42GHz PowerPC processor, a chip that could find its way into Apple's high-end PowerBook laptop.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
2 min read
Motorola on Monday announced a faster PowerPC chip that could be used in speedier Apple Computer laptops.

Motorola said it is now producing samples of a 1.42GHz PowerPC processor, a chip analysts say might soon find its way into the PowerBook, Apple's high-end laptop. Motorola said the chip has a typical power consumption of less than 20 watts, a level that makes it suitable for laptops. The chip also contains multimedia instructions that are required for chips that Apple bills as G4 processors.

"It certainly would be a fit for a portable Mac," Mercury Research analyst Dean McCarron said. "It's obviously up to Apple whether they would do that versus using an IBM (chip)."

A Motorola representative declined to comment on whether Apple might be interested in the chip. In a press release, Motorola said the chip is designed for a wide range of uses, including in computing as well as embedded, noncomputer, tasks.

An Apple representative also declined to comment, citing its policy of not discussing future products.

Motorola made the chips for the first Mac in 1984 and was the provider of the "68000" chips that powered all Macs until the PowerPC arrived in the mid-1990s. Originally a joint effort of IBM and Motorola, both companies now make PowerPC chips independently. IBM is the sole supplier of G5 chips, while Apple has used both companies at various times to supply other PowerPC processors.

A 1.42GHz chip would give a speed boost to the PowerBook line, but such a processor could also eventually wind up in Apple's more consumer-oriented iBook line, considering that Apple moved it to the G4 processor last fall.

The PowerBook line was last updated in September, when Apple added 15-inch aluminum models at up to 1.25GHz and a 17-inch model running at 1.33GHz.

While Mac fans are no doubt curious whether Apple adopts the chip, McCarron noted that the Mac market is only a fraction of Motorola's business, with most of its sales coming from noncomputer uses.

"Motorola traditionally has done a tremendous amount of volume in the embedded space whether it be for automotive, laser printers or some other type of controller."

The big question for many Mac users is when Apple will make the debut of its first G5 laptop. When it introduced the chip, Apple has said that it would take some time for it to reach the portable market because of its power requirements.

However, analysts say that now that IBM has moved the G5 line to its 90-nanometer manufacturing process, a G5 PowerBook should not be far off.

"I doubt it would be later than July or August," said Peter Glaskowsky, editor in chief of Microprocessor Report. "If everything had been just on a slightly different schedule we might have seen them at Macworld."

Apple is already using that lower-power chip in its rack-mounted Xserve G5.